The traders' strike in Uttar Pradesh to protest the Mayawati government's decision to implement the value-added tax (VAT) regime has brought business and commerce in Lucknow and Agra to a standstill.
All major shops and commercial establishments in the two cities remained shut. Similar reports were received from other parts of the state.
"VAT will harm the interests of traders while bringing back 'inspector raj'. That will only increase harassment of traders," said Banwari Lal Kanchal, head of Samajwadi Party-sponsored Vyapar Mandal in Lucknow.
"It's a 48-hour total 'bandh' (general strike) call and all the market associations and traders' organisations, including transporters, have answered the call," said Sant Sharan Barua, vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh Udhyog Vyapar Mandal in Agra.
Around 248 trades and products will be covered under the new VAT regime. Small traders and manufacturers are the most apprehensive as they fear more surveillance and paperwork, said market watchers.
VAT is claimed to be consumer friendly. "Bills will have to be issued and shopkeepers will need to keep proper records," said a tax expert.
However, going by the response to the two-day strike, it appears not many businessmen and manufacturers are inclined to accept the new tax regime. Transport and logistics companies have also joined the strike in Agra.
Meanwhile, Agra's trade tax commissioner has made it clear that there was no question of withdrawing VAT. Preparations were fully underway at the trade tax department.
The protesters in Agra gathered at the Ramlila Ground of Jaipur House Colony and marched to the commissioner's office to present a memorandum.
Traders in Lucknow took out a protest march through the city's main thoroughfares.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supported the traders' strike.